I WOULD like to highlight the predicament of the shipping industry and the Pakistani seafarer. Up to 1974, Pakistan had a sizeable merchant fleet with thriving privately-owned shipping companies. Virtually all cadets who passed out of the Pakistan Marine Academy were absorbed either by the national-flag carrier or one of the many private shipping companies.
The Pakistan Marine Academy had a high standard and catered not only to Pakistani nationals but also to trained cadets from many countries such as Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Pakistan was truly considered a prominent maritime nation capable enough of safeguarding its maritime boundaries and ratify and enforce various International Maritime Organisation (IMO) conventions/treaties. It went on to produce a sizeable number of trained seafarers who went on to serve on board not only national flag carriers but also foreign flag vessels.
Came the era of nationalisation and the rot started to set in. Nepotism and favouritism became the name of the game. The quota system killed the selection on the basis of merit by the Pakistan Marine Academy. The national fleet rapidly dwindled from around more than 70 vessels in 1971 to just nine vessels at present.
Foreign nationals are no more interested in the Pakistan Marine Academy, and Pakistani nationals passing out run from pillar to post and remain at the mercy of foreign shipping companies which would, of course, only employ them if it is commercially viable.
The incident of 9/11 in 2001 was the last nail in the coffin for Pakistan’s shipping industry and seafarers. Being categorised as belonging to a ‘restricted nationality’, a Pakistani seafarer faces immense problems seeking employment as now most of the countries have placed visa restrictions on Pakistani nationals which a foreign shipping company with commercial interests is not willing to take up.
Add to this bureaucratic hurdles, such as coming to Karachi, from wherever the seafarer resides, for signing on the Articles of Agreement at the shipping master’s office doesn’t make them an attractive choice in the international job market.
The following suggestions, if taken heed of, might alleviate the suffering of our seafarers and raise the bar of the shipping industry:
a. Encourage private ship owning by giving tax incentives.
b. Run the national-flag carrier on professional lines so as to make it commercially viable, which would result in the growth of national fleet.
c. Make merit the sole basis of selection in the Pakistan Marine Academy.
d. Appoint competent nautical/engineer surveyors and examiners of master/mates and engineers. This would not only raise the standard of our seafarers, but also ensure effective compliance with various IMO conventions/treaties.
e. Do away with the shipping master’s office in Karachi as a valid seaman’s book and a seafarer’s identity document should suffice. The same has effectively been enforced by our neighbouring country to the great benefit for seafarers of distant countries.
Capt Naeem Garg Pharasi
Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2015